Martin Wishart, 54 The Shore, Leith, Edinburgh EH6 6RA.
Tel: 0131 553 3557
A visit to Martin Wishart is perhaps compulsory for all food-interested individuals who find themselves in Edinburgh; with one Michelin star under his belt, and having previously been named Best Restaurant in Scotland by the AA, it should be clear why. So you might ask why it has taken so long for me to get around to it? I can only blame an inherent inability to organise myself!
The welcome here is warm, friendly but embarrassingly rehearsed. Perhaps it needs to be, but having been seated, offered drinks, offered menus and instructed regarding the tasting versus à la carte menus, it was a little tedious to listen to the same spiel being offered, word for word, to other tables positioned close to ours. This doesn't exude professionalism or comfort within one's role, and does nothing do reinforce what could be a very personal welcome. Not to worry; dining as a twosome, we made our choices from the à la carte selection, opted for a bottle of Roches Neuves 2005 Saumur-Champigny, and relaxed in what are indeed very convivial surroundings, a blend of warm browns (carpet, chairs, a little wood panelling, the blinds) and crisp white linen on the tables. My relaxation was enhanced by a glass of Ruinart (which was introduced simply as non-vintage, but which on tasting had to be the Blanc de Blancs - it was very good). It was only the arrival of a platter of amuses bouches which stirred me from my respite.
I sampled these from left to right - as instructed. First up was a celeriac and saffron velouté, and although the saffron came through quite well on the palate it also seemed rather well seasoned, and it tasted more of mushroom than celeriac. In the middle of this trio came a pig's trotter tartlet, which was rich, sweet, slightly sticky, tasty but ultimately - save for the use of trotter rather than an easier cut - lacked distinction. Lastly a small mushroom mousse; full marks here for presentation, a small marble of mousse suspended in a liquor or stock, which collapsed under the weight of the spoon, such was its delicacy. And the flavour was good too. This was surely the best of this tiny triumvirate.
Up next was a ravioli of langoustine which was good, with perfect wafer-thin pasta around some soft, flavoursome but very tiny chunks of langoustine; in fact, it was almost minced seafood. The foie gras and truffle sauce was good, with more emphasis on the latter, especially as tiny slivers of truffle dotted the surface of the dish. Overall, though, I was unmoved; the dish was technically correct, but I found the sum of the parts unexciting. I also tasted a little of an alternative, Kilbrannen scallops, which were a little undercooked for my palate, although the accompanying parmesan regiano sauce was delicious. I suppose how well-done you prefer your scallops is a very personal thing, but these were fairly raw and very lightly seared. I thought back to the fabulous scallops from Stephane Cosnier at Le Petit Comptoir; these presented here just didn't compare.
An issue with cooking style persisted through to the next course, with a steamed sea bass, which came dressed with a mushroom ravioli (the most charming, minuscule mushrooms you have ever seen - as if harvested in a magical, miniature world), wilted rocket and konbu (seaweed, if you were wondering) vinegar. The latter was presented as a cappuccino-style foam, and did nothing to enhance the dish at all. The sea bass itself, though, was a soft and structureless dish with no bite to it; I later learned that this effect is achieved by steaming the fish in a sealed plastic bag. It's not something I would attempt to reproduce, although I suspect some would enjoy its soft, squishy texture. It's all about personal palate preferences, for sure. Finally - for the main course, at least - a squab pigeon was very nicely presented, with two breasts and one leg accompanied by a pomme galette - a round of fine potato slices - and a celeriac purée. The breasts came with foie gras, wrapped in cabbage leaves, and it was on the whole very good. My only point of criticism would be concerning the rest of my pigeon...unless it was a one-legged pigeon, of course. There is nothing wrong with serving half a bird, naturally, as the rest may be utilised for stocks, amuses bouches, and so on, but I did enjoy Tom Kitchin's ethos of serving the whole woodcock on a plate. Nevertheless, what I did receive was well presented and certainly cooked to perfection....and I suppose that is what counts.
A shared cheese course was divine - in fact it was perhaps the high point of the meal - as the cheese trolley is very well stocked. We enjoyed these with some walnut bread which was just as good as the other breads served during the meal, even if I would have preferred a little more substance and a little less crisp in some of them, as well as some Swedish crisp breads. The latter were "made especially for us", which I imagine - although I don't know - means that they are bought in from Peter's Yard. These were followed by two desserts; first up, a lemon delice, with blood orange cream and honeycomb. Although this resembled a gigantic chip-shop sausage on a plate, this was divine, creamy, intensely flavoured and a good choice. Alongside I tried the assiette of rhubarb and yoghurt with ginger beer sorbet and lemon grass sauce. On the plate this resembled a scattering of sweet candy, rather like little sticks of sweet rock and other delights had been thrown there in a thoughtless fashion. But each one was a fine rhubarb mousse, or dollop of yoghurt, and they were certainly tasty, although the flavours were outdone by the fine presentation I think. In one place a small tartlet of rhubarb revealed some intensity, but in another came the real "wow" moment when a pink, icy quenelle of sorbet revealed not more rhubarb, but this time ginger beer. What a great blast of flavour to finish on!
This was an evening of very good, very technically correct food. The ingredients are no doubt excellent, the presentation superb, the atmosphere warm and considerate. The execution, however, sometimes failed to move me. But this is I suppose a personal thing, the interaction between one man's cooking and another's palate. We declined coffee, but a selection of handmade chocolates and some very good petits fours arrived just the same. They finished off an enjoyable evening - in fact they finished me off, as well.
Prices: This little evening came to about £180, a bill which provided one aperitif in the shape of the Ruinart (£12.50 per glass), three courses each, two bottles of mineral water (£4.45 each) and the Saumur-Champigny (£33). The wine list is extensive, and there are plenty of pricier options for those looking to spend up. The tasting menu gives six courses for the same fee as dining à la carte, £60, and a glass of wine with each of the six courses will be £50. (11/3/09)